Read Douglas Hofstadter’s recent Atlantic magazine article on Machine Translation and write a 1000 word summary and response. There are three languages that the author picks as case studies – French, German, and Mandarin. Pick one of them and discuss the issues that arise in translating this language. If you have reading competency in another language, you could instead conduct experiments similar to the ones Hofstadter conducts on your language of choice and report the results.
Keep in mind that the article is long and 1000 words is not a lot. So your first task is to identify what you think the important ideas are in this article and then decide how to incorporate them into your summary and discussion. Below we have outlined the topics you need to cover; the rest is up to you. Note that the goal of the project is to summarize — so you’ll largely be reporting the views of the author. But towards the end you can give your personal take of the discussion as long as you make it clear that this is your viewpoint. Also note that while you summarizing someone else’s ideas, you still have to do it in your words. You cannot directly take chunks of text from the article. That would count as plagiarism.
Here’s the structure your essay should have:
1. Short introductory paragraph
2. Introducing the issues that arise in translating your language of choice [this could be more than one paragraph]
(i) What is one example of how translation fails in your language of choice? (explain the phenomenon)
(ii) What’s another example? (explain the phenomenon)
3. Discussion of why Google Translate is limited in the way it is [this could be more than one paragraph]
(i) Why can’t Google Translate successfully translate the structures you identified in Part 2?
(ii) Do you think similar problems will arise in other languages?
(ii) Do you think all efforts at machine translation are doomed to fail?
4. The final paragraph should wrap things up.
To get some tips on how to write well, you could read the first two chapters of Steven Pinker’s book “The Sense of Style”. They are attached below. Also please use spell checkers and avoid spelling mistakes.
The writing assignment has three parts: (i) the first draft (ii) peer review and (iii) the revised version. For this round (i.e. the first draft), we will grade you on content and the structure of your essay. We will give you feedback on the style and grammar of your writing but will not deduct points.
Due: noon, next Friday, October 5. Assignments should be submitted as PDF files via Moodle. Only PDF files will be accepted. Other formats (Word, RTF) will be returned and your assignment will count as a late assignment!